5 Simple Ways to Help Limit Your Child’s Screen Time

September 20, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Arvind Patel, M.D. contributes to topics such as Pediatrics.

Jane Suhyoung Kim, M.D. contributes to topics such as Pediatrics.

Paul V. Sunkavalli, M.D. contributes to topics such as Pediatrics, Parenting.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), no one—child or adult—should have more than 2 hours of screen time per day, and that amount is even less for kids under age 2.

AAP recommends:

  • No screen time for children under age 2
  • One hour of screen time per day for children ages 2 to 12
  • Two hours of screen time per day for everyone over age 12

“If your child has become accustomed to using screens for entertainment, it will likely take some time to rein in their screen time,” says Paul Sunkavalli, M.D., pediatrician with Southern Ocean Medical Center. “Screen addiction is a learned behavior, so adherence to recommendations is particularly important, especially in young children.”

For the smoothest transition, incorporate some of these tips into your screen time strategy.

  • Set Realistic Goals

It’s unlikely that you will be able to cut down screen time from eight hours to two hours overnight. Try easing down the time first by cutting it in half. Let your child know how many hours of screen time they are allowed each day, and keep track of it. “Set a limit for yourself and other members of your household, as well, and stick to them,” says Arvind Patel, M.D., pediatrician based in Freehold, New Jersey. “By setting a good example, you can demonstrate the fairness of your screen time rules.

  • Make Screen Time Active

When your child is engaging with screens, try to incorporate physical activity into their viewing. Get them interested in motion-sensitive video games that require them to dance, jump or perform other physical movements in place. Even if you don’t have motion-sensitive equipment, your children can still play along to videos available for free online.

  • Set No-device Zones and Times

Mealtimes and certain areas of the house, such as the dinner table or bedroom, can be designated as device-free to encourage healthy boundaries for screen time. Using screens around bedtime can disrupt sleep, so it’s a good idea to make your child’s bedroom screen-free. At mealtime, encourage your family to talk to one another rather than engaging with phones or watching TV. This is another opportunity where you can lead by example by placing your phone or other devices out of reach.

  • Don’t Make Screens a Reward or Punishment

It can be tempting to use screen time as a bargaining chip for good behavior, but offering screen time as a reward or taking it away as punishment inflates its value in your child’s mind, making it harder to set limits.

  • Introduce Exciting Alternatives

Many of us turn to screens when we’re bored, and kids are no different. Help them see that screens are not their only option for entertainment by introducing them to new sports, hobbies and people. Even better if you can participate in the activity with them. You can find many free or affordable youth activities and groups through your local park district, community center, faith organizations and schools.

“Reducing screen time takes a commitment by the entire household,” says Jane Suhyoung Kim, M.D., pediatrician with Hackensack University Medical Center. “It may be difficult at the start, but your child benefits developmentally, and replacing screen time with family engagement and physical activity creates opportunities to bond and build your relationship with your child.”

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The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.